Harvard student portraits
In many occasions, we use photography to bring us back to specific moments from the past. In this case, we remember the wonderful people with whom we have shared two very intense years of our lives. I started this photography project more than a year ago, when I realized that these people, who initially gathered as classmates and colleagues, soon became the closest of friends and even a family. MPA/ID classmates are the most valuable treasure obtained during our stay at Harvard. To highlight that, I came up with an idea of creating an unusual photobook. This photobook includes the portraits of the MPA/ID cohort and several keywords chosen by other classmates to describe each of them.
The most difficult part was to figure out how to portray a Harvard student from the MPA/ID program. Portraits are more than just a record: they are used to show the power, importance or other qualities of the sitter. Oftentimes, a portrait symbolizes the value and worth of an individual in society. The Harvard Kennedy School is proud to shape the leaders of tomorrow; therefore, the classical portrait of a student would have presented the image of a self-confident and sharp person who can transform and improve the world on his/her own. However, this is not exactly how I perceived the image of our MPA/ID generation.
First of all, the MPA/ID program is about teamwork, support, and collaboration. During these two years, we struggled with countless problem sets, passed difficult exams, and spent endless all-nighters to finish final projects, papers, and SYPAs. We went through these challenges together, helping ourselves and taking care of each other. Hence, I tried to capture this feeling and symbolize that, in any situation, MPA/ID are always behind us to support and take care of us.
Second, while the MPA/ID program gathered some of the world’s smartest and most talented development practitioners, they are all complex human beings subject to normal human vulnerabilities, emotions, and feelings. We want to be remembered not through our selfie smile or our confident facades, but through the richness and complexity of our personalities. We want to be remembered more for our real identities and less for our roles and expectations. After all, we have spent so much time together that we know how our faces look after hours of work. We know our weaknesses and our virtues. We saw each other in moments of failure and success. For this reason, these are not flattering portraits, but those that capture our authenticity and spontaneity, those that seek to look beyond our Harvard helmets.
Finally, diversity is one of the main characteristics of this group. To represent it, these pictures try to capture the richness of our cohort. 29 nationalities and multiple ethnicities from all continents have been sharing culture, traditions, and ways of thinking. Furthermore, each person has chosen one word to describe every classmate. So, in the end, every MPAID has multiple different words that describe us, a demonstration of the diversity in every person and also between us. The portraits do not pursue to represent the meaning of those words, but both complement each other in the diversity and complexity of each personality.
These portraits are a gift of love to all MPA/ID 2017’s. But also, they are a reminder that in the future we will not be alone. Our work and lives will be rich from joy but also full of frustrations and obstacles. A phone call, WhatsApp text or email will bring other MPA/ID classmates to support each other. We became part of a big and diverse family. Because you were here and anytime you miss us, just look behind you, we are here.